The UK’s “information warfare” brigade secretly monitored British citizens who expressed criticism of the government’s Covid lockdown policies, according to a report by The Mail on Sunday. The shadowy army unit compiled dossiers on public figures such as former minister David Davis, who questioned the death toll predictions, as well as journalists Peter Hitchens and Toby Young, who raised doubts about the official pandemic response. The information was then shared with No. 10.
The operation was carried out by government cells such as the Counter Disinformation Unit, based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office. The most secretive of these groups is the MoD’s 77th Brigade, which was created to use “non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers” to influence the behavior of adversaries. However, a whistleblower who worked for the brigade during the lockdowns claims that the unit strayed far beyond its remit of targeting foreign powers and also monitored British citizens’ social media accounts, an activity that the Ministry of Defence repeatedly denied doing in public.
The papers obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch showed that the outfits were tasked with countering “disinformation” and “harmful narratives,” with civil servants and artificial intelligence scraping social media for keywords of interest. The information was then used to orchestrate government responses to criticisms of lockdown policies and also allowed ministers to push social media platforms to remove posts and promote government-approved lines.
The Army whistleblower claimed that the government was more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference and expressed regret for being a part of it. The source also suggested that the government’s focus on monitoring critics may have caused them to miss genuine pro-lockdown campaigns led by China.
Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, described the situation as an “alarming case of mission creep,” where public money and military power were misused to monitor journalists, academics, campaigners, and MPs who criticized the government, particularly during the pandemic. Carlo argued that the Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation, as the government’s truth units are secretive and harmful to democracy.
A Downing Street source claimed that the units have scaled back their work significantly since the end of the lockdowns. However, former Cabinet minister David Davis, a member of the Privy Council, described the covert surveillance of citizens as “outrageous” and questioned the waste of public money. Journalist Peter Hitchens also raised concerns about whether he was “shadow-banned” due to his criticisms and called for a full and powerful investigation into the matter.
The revelation of the UK’s information warfare brigade’s secret monitoring of citizens raises serious questions about the government’s respect for civil liberties and the abuse of military power and public funds. The need for transparency and accountability in these units is essential to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and safeguard the democratic foundations of the nation.
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